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CDC Offers Pandemic Guidance on Facemasks


ATLANTA -- If a flu pandemic materializes, Americans should avoid crowds and close contact, rather than relying on facemasks and respirators, the CDC said today.

ATLANTA, May 3 -- If a flu pandemic materializes, Americans should avoid crowds and close contact, rather than relying on facemasks and respirators, the CDC said today.

"No mask or facial protection alone is going to be enough to completely eliminate the risk of a pandemic," said Julie Gerberding, M.D., the CDC director, in a telephone press conference.

But, she said, "we know that many times people will want to wear a mask if they think they are going to be exposed to infectious disease."

For that reason, she said, the CDC is issuing "common sense ? practical advice" about the use of such equipment in case an influenza pandemic occurs.

She said the recommendations are not based on science because research on what sort of facial protection might offer protection is not complete and may not be for months or even years.

In a nutshell, Dr. Gerberding said, the CDC is recommending that if people can't avoid crowds, they may be able to get some protection by using a simple facemask -- like those used by physicians in an operating room.

Such a mask would protect the wearer from droplets coughed out by others and also protect other people from the wearer's own coughing, she said.

If close contact with a sick person is unavoidable -- caring for a flu patient, for instance -- a better option would be a properly fitted N95 respirator mask, Dr. Gerberding said.

However, she noted, for such a mask to be effective it must fit properly and not allow any air to enter through the sides of the mask. People wearing beards, for example, can't easily use such a mask, she said.

Dr. Gerberding said the CDC has stockpiled 52 million surgical facemasks and more than 100 million N95 respirator masks for use by healthcare workers if a pandemic occurs.

"We are not recommending that people stockpile masks at this point in time," she said.

"We are concerned that people will think the mask is a magic bullet," she said. "Masks are certainly something that can have a role in personal protection, but they are not the most important thing."

More important, she said, would be avoiding crowds, staying away from people ill with respiratory ailments, and staying home when ill.

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